PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Political Theology Unit
Theme: Political Theology and Decolonialism
Inese Radzins, Pacific School of Religion, Presiding
Saturday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-17B (Mezzanine Level)

There has been little conversation between Decolonial theory and Political Theology. This panel seeks to begin a conversation between these two areas of inquiry by considering the ways in which the modern political imaginary emerged through encounters with its colonial and racial other. More specifically, the panel reflects upon the relation between political theology and decolonial thought in order to explore how the questions posed in each conversation might challenge and transform the other.

Rafael Vizcaino, Rutgers University
Decolonizing the Postsecular

I put the postsecular debate in conversation with the decolonial turn. Both theoretical debates have been taking place across multiple disciplines of the social sciences and humanities without substantial critical intersection until recently. I build on the recent attempts to jumpstart the postsecular-decolonial discussion on the “secular-modern-colonial conceptual knot” (Lloyd and Viefhues-Bailey 2015) by examining the significance of decolonization in a postsecular era. I argue that decolonial scholars make an intervention into the meaning of the postsecular by conceiving of secularity and religiosity as colonial mechanisms from which one must decolonize if one is to theorize without categorical impositions i.e. the coloniality of knowledge production. With an alternative theory of modernity in which secularization intensifies, rather than overturns, the imperial form of colonization embedded in religious missionary projects, decolonial thinking re-signifies of the postsecular as parallel to the process of epistemic decolonization.

Aseel Najib, Columbia University
The Sunni Imamate: Politics, Religion, or Neither?

By studying the al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya by the fifth/eleventh-century jurist and scholar al-Mawardi, this paper constructs an indigenous political theology from within a premodern Muslim tradition. What was the constitution, conceptualization, and mutual configuration of "politics" and "religion" according to premodern Muslim scholars, and how can this contribute to contemporary debates in critical thought, political theory, and moral and legal philosophy? Furthermore, this paper examines modern Western studies of the Ahkam in order to explore how the "political"--defined by Claude Lefort as the hidden processes that make us consent to a given regime--functions differently in the modern West and the premodern Muslim worlds.

Joi Orr, Emory University
The Peculiarity of Black Sovereign Citizens: Martyrs, Saints, and the Brazenly Criminal

The phenomenon of black sovereign citizens is peculiar and unsettling. They are peculiar in that they are black men and women who refuse the sovereignty of the American nation-state, and therefore live true anarchist lives. They refuse to identify as American citizens, claiming allegiance to a contesting sovereign. Black sovereign citizens are also unsettling, especially those murdered by law enforcement. Unlike the black martyrs and saints of police violence, who must be innocent, black sovereign citizens are brazenly criminal; disrupting our normal understandings of racialized state sanctioned violence.

This paper attempts to settle the peculiarity of black sovereign citizens, employing critical race theory’s intervention into political theology. Thus, I turn to Walter Benjamin, likening black sovereign citizens to the Great Criminal, Sylvia Wynter’s Coloniality to explain the double criminality of race and anarchy, and Fred Moten’s Undercommons in an effort to imagine black fugitive life outside the nation-state.

J. Barton Scott, University of Toronto
Policing “Secular Heresy”: Religion and the Law of Sedition in Colonial India

In colonial India, the phrase “political theology” indicated a conceptual impasse. Anticolonialists used the concept “religion” to fend off the colonial state, which tried to abide by broadly secularist principles. But by the 1900s, a definitional contest had emerged, in which the British state and Hindu anticolonial thinkers vied for the right to decide the bounds of the religious—and thus the right to decide when “theology” could be deemed “political” and thus potentially seditious. This paper analyzes this conceptual contest by looking at documents from a 1909-1910 court case in the princely state of Patiala, where dozens of men associated with a reformist Hindu group, the Arya Samaj, were charged with sedition. By reading archival documents as making theoretical moves, I hope not only to bring anticolonial voices into the conversation about political theology, but also to show how the very category “political theology” was implicated in colonial rule.

Business Meeting:
David Newheiser, Australian Catholic University
Inese Radzins, Pacific School of Religion
  • Professional Development
Publications Committee and Status of Women in the Profession Committee
Theme: Women and Publishing
Andrea Jain, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Presiding
Saturday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 411A (Fourth Level)

Submissions by women to journals and books series, including JAAR, are lower by percentage than the percentage of women in the field of religious studies. This panel brings together women successful as editors and authors to discuss the reasons for this and offer advice and support to women in the field for their publishing agendas.

Zayn Kassam, Pomona College
Elaine Maisner, University of North Carolina Press
Lisa Sideris, Indiana University
Catherine Wessinger, Loyola University, New Orleans
Western Esotericism Unit
Theme: Authority and Feminine Leadership in Esoteric Groups
Brigid Burke, Montclair State University, Presiding
Saturday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Aqua E (Third Level)

This session aims at encouraging a broader look at issues of feminine authority in relation to esotericism. How is authority negotiated for women in esoteric groups? How is gender positioning affected by the occult practices of women and how does occult practice affect self representation in individual cases? Papers in this session look at female leaders in the period of the occult revival Dion Fortune, Mina Crandon and Leah Hirsig and the relation between occultism, leadership, and self representation in each case.

Elizabeth Lowry, Arizona State University
Mina “Margery” Crandon: Gynecology and (Im)Purity in the Jazz Age Séance

Competing narratives with respect to spirit medium Mina Crandon’s practice was exacerbated by blurred discursive boundaries that would otherwise have separated ritual constructions of purity and pollution. Drawing on the scholarship of Marina Warner and Cathy Gutierrez, I examine how discourses of bodily abjection, birthing and gynecology emerge in Crandon’s seances. Further, I consider Mary Douglas’s theories of purity and pollution with respect to the séance genre and how allusions to obstetrics reflect 1920s-era social panic regarding the pathologizing (and subsequent institutionalization) of childbirth, assumptions about bodily contamination, and a preoccupation with both literal and metaphorical dismemberment. Crandon negotiated her authority through her sexuality and, by expelling ectoplasm from her vagina, Crandon performed femininity in a manner that exploited discourses framing the female body as a site of abjection.

Manon Hedenborg White, Södertörn University
Manon Hedenborg White, Södertörn University
Leah Hirsig, Scarlet Woman: Proximal Authority and Gender in Aleister Crowley's Thelema

This paper analyzes the role of the Swiss-American music teacher Leah Hirsig in Aleister Crowley’s religion Thelema. In 1920, Crowley appointed Hirsig his Scarlet Woman; a title he conferred on his most important female lovers and disciples, designating her as an avatar of the goddess Babalon. As Scarlet Woman, Hirsig’s position in the Thelemic movement was simultaneously central and tenuous, shifting radically when Crowley chose a new woman for this office. The paper proposes a supplement to Max Weber’s tripartite typology of authority: proximal authority, defined as authority ascribed to, and enacted by, a person based on their relational proximity to a religious leader. Comparing Hirsig’s case to notions of the Scarlet Woman role among contemporary esotericists, the paper utilizes the concept of proximal authority to analyze intersections of relationality and religious authority, highlighting how gendered positionalities have both enabled and restricted feminine authority in 20th-century esotericism.

Georgia van Raalte, University of Surrey
The Authority of Dion Fortune: Performance, Polarity and Mediumship

Dion Fortune (1890-1946) was an writer, medium and leader of the occult group The Society of the Inner Light, which was founded in the 1920s as the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society, and which continues to train seekers via a modified version of Fortune’s Correspondence Course, and to put out a quarterly journal, to this day.

This paper will explore Fortune’s life-long project of performance and positioning in order to establish herself as as an ambivalent, liminal figure within her respectable, middle-class background. Fortune’s life was marked by gender play and queerness, even while she explicitly rejected homosexuality. This paper will explore her oft-repeated anecdotes of being accused of being a man, and consider the way Fortune used this gender queering to create and maintain authority. It will contrast Fortune’s literary self-presentation with the hyper-femininity attributes to the heroines of her occult novels in order to consider the dissonance between public performance and inner development within Fortune’s life. It will consider what this tells us about the ways Fortune maintained authority as a leader, and how she felt about her own leadership.

This paper will explore the relationship between mediumship, leadership and authority during the Occult revival, considering Fortune alongside Blavatsky and Mathers. It will consider the conflicts that wracked The Society of the Inner Light in the years that followed Fortune’s death, and explore what these reveal about the way Fortune maintained authority within her group.

Business Meeting:
Egil Asprem, Stockholm University
Women and Religion Unit
Theme: Alternative Production of Knowledge and Embodied Knowledge
Mugdha Yeolekar, California State University, Fullerton, Presiding
Saturday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Indigo 202A (Second Level)

What role does "gender" play in knowing and imagining the Sacred? The selected papers analyze diverse women's various ways of experiencing, embodying, and alternating the knowledge of the Sacred and the Divinity.

Haruka Umetsu Cho, Harvard University
Erotic Desires and Acts as a Woman’s Way of Knowing the Divinity: Reading Arishima Taeko, A Certain Woman

This paper will examine a Japanese novel written by Arishima Takeo, A Certain Woman (1919), in order to explore women’s ways of knowing, focusing on the body and erotic desire as a locus where the human-God relationship is embodied. Using lenses of feminist and postcolonial theology, this paper contends that the novel shows a way of knowing God beyond language (androcentric logocentrism) and sanitized love, depicting the life a modern Japanese Christian woman who refuses both Japanese colonial womanhood and Christian (Victorian) sexual ethics. The protagonist experiences God by maximizing her erotic desire, especially by violently devouring and being devoured by the other in sexual acts as a form of “love.” Questioning socio-political and religious boundaries of sex, gender, sexuality, and depicting the presence of God in the protagonist’s promiscuous and stigmatized body, this novel casts theological questions about an exceedingly radical God, who may go beyond any existing boundaries.

Ailie Posillico, Villanova University
Words on Fire: Gemma Galgani and the Power of Authorial Voice

With a focus on the archives of Gemma Galgani (1878-1903), lay Italian Catholic mystic, stigmatic, and first saint of the 20th century, the present paper highlights the ways in which Gemma cultivated relationships with the hierarchy, specifically through writing, that challenged the “traditional,” clerically approved models of 20th century Catholic sanctity. With attention to Gemma’s writing, a saint who has otherwise been portrayed by her hagiographer as fitting neatly into the strictures of Italian Catholicism of her time, we see rhetoric that contests the assumption that submission is a necessary component of “piety.” Attending to Gemma’s letters sent to her spiritual advisor, the present paper underscores the ways in which Gemma as author, rather than as wounded body, weaves for herself an alternative system of agency that coexists with, while at the same time reimagines the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Nicholas Andersen, Brown University
Facing West with Margaret Fuller: Summer on the Lakes and the Naturalization of US Settler Colonialism

Inspired by elements of the internal colonization thesis and the work of Mark Rifkin and Jodi Byrd, this paper proffers a reading of the popular nineteenth-century editor, journalist, and protofeminist Margaret Fuller’s travelogue Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 as a representative example of American religious, philosophical, and literary discourse that sheds further light on how settler colonialism is naturalized. It argues that Fuller’s democratic social criticism of various elements of US culture, especially her critiques of gendered domination, depends upon racialized, imperialist representations of Native peoples as threatening extensions of the landscape that must be exterminated. It also explores the less obvious ways that Fuller’s work generates the givenness of US empire, as, for example, in her enraptured literary response to the landscape of the American West. It concludes by asking whether it is possible to speak of the American West without replicating settler colonial logics.

Tamara Lewis, Southern Methodist University
African Religions Unit
Theme: Studying Religion with Achille Mbembe
Devaka Premawardhana, Emory University, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-15A (Mezzanine Level)

The Cameroonian philosopher and political theorist, Achille Mbembe, has become a leading public intellectual and a prominent thinker, not just in Cameroon and in South Africa (where he is currently based) or across the African continent, but in fact worldwide. His writings, in particular his two main books De la postcolonie (2000; transl. On the Postcolony, 2001) and Critique de la raison nègre (2013; transl. Critique of Black Reason, 2017), have shaped debates in postcolonial studies, African studies, political theory, critical theory, and continental philosophy. The papers in this panel engage Mbembe's work and thinking, and explores its implications for the study of religion and for theological thought in the Africana world and beyond.

Emmanuel Buteau, Haitian Institute of Atlanta
Black Reason within the Bounds of Religion: Achille Mbembe and Haitian Religion

This paper explores the work of Achille Mbembe and its implications for the study of Haitian religion. It investigates the effects of Haitian conceptions of race and of African-ness on the uses of the black body in its search for authenticity and integrity in a postcolonial context. This paper also engages the works of other scholars of Haitian and Latin American religion who help shed further light on the situation, among them the anthropologists Jean Price-Mars and Terry Rey. The paper’s overall aim is to build from Mbembe’s work in De la postcolonie (trans. On the Postcolony) and in Critique de la raison nègre (trans. Critique of Black Reason) to construct a theory of the Black body that is informed by Haiti's unique history and lived experience, yet in a way that speaks to all, especially people of African descent.

David Ngong, Stillman College
Honor and Bondage in African Politics: Rethinking Contemporary African Political Theology

Drawing from Emmanuel Katogole’s proposal that African political theology should concern itself with description rather than prescription and Achille Mbembe’s proposal that African theology should engage the question of slavery, this paper argues that the quest for honor, as John Iliffe suggested in his study of slavery in Africa, should be central to a conceptual analysis of contemporary African politics. Such conceptual analysis should also critique the theory of wealth in persons which underwrites the quest for honor. Renarrating the crisis of the nation state in Africa from the perspective of precolonial slavery throws significant light especially on the violent nature of contemporary African nation state, suggesting that this violence, rather than being a colonial creation, is an intensification of a tendency already latent in the creation of precolonial states. Theologically rethinking the concept of honor therefore becomes a central question in African political theology.

Laura Grillo, Georgetown University
Mbembe’s Matrix and the Matri-Archive: The “Little Secret” to Conjuring Away the Postcolonial Spell

In “Provisional Notes on the Postcolony,” Achille Mbembe says Africa’s stranglehold of crisis derives from “the little secret” of postcolonial dynamics: the state turns itself into a fetish “keep[ing] the people under the spell of the commandement, within an enchanted forest of adulation” (1992, 11). In Critique of Black Reason, he suggests that liberation may be possible through African traditions: “To escape this [spell]…requires that an original symbolic matrix (tradition) ... [through which] the ex-colonized will henceforth be able to be born into themselves … and the madness [will] finally be conjured away” (2017, 105). Drawing on Laura S. Grillo’s An Intimate Rebuke: Female Genital Power in Ritual and Politics in West Africa (Duke UP 2018), I will argue that the traditional appeal by postmenopausal women to their “bottom power” is just such a living matrix – what Grillo calls the "matri-archive" – deploying their own “little secret” for restorative justice.

  • Books under Discussion
Afro-American Religious History Unit and Pentecostal–Charismatic Movements Unit
Theme: Holy Black Female Personhood: A Roundtable Discussion of The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism (Duke University Press, 2017)
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-16B (Mezzanine Level)

Judith Casselberry’s ethnography makes critical contributions to the study of Black religious women by integrating spiritual, material, social, and structural spheres of the work of women in a New York-based Pentecostal denomination—through the lens of emotional, intimate, and aesthetic labor theories—to highlight the mechanisms and meanings of Black women’s labor. By situating its analysis at the intersection of faith, labor, gender, and power, this study reveals the circumstances and significance of producing a holy black female personhood. It expands our understanding of Black women’s investment in religious communities, which is significant for understanding those who, like the women in this study, spend a great deal of time and energy doing religious work. This panel brings together scholars across theoretical, geographical, and religious landscapes to discuss The Labor of Faith in relation to their own research and to tease out overarching themes that emerge in varying contexts.

N. Fadeke Castor, Northeastern University
Eboni Marshall Turman, Yale University
Emilie M. Townes, Vanderbilt University
Eziaku Nwokocha, University of Pennsylvania
Ashon Crawley, University of Virginia
Judith Casselberry, Bowdoin College
  • Books under Discussion
Native Traditions in the Americas Unit
Theme: Author-Meets-Critics: Cutcha Risling Baldy’s We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies (2018)
Suzanne J. Crawford O'Brien, Pacific Lutheran University, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 410A (Fourth Level)

Cutcha Risling Baldy’s We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies (University of Washington Press, 2018) explores the meaning and process of the revival of the Ch'ilwa:l, the Flower Dance, a coming-of-age ceremony for women of the Hupa Tribe in northern California. Though the author is an outsider to the disciplinary world of religious studies, the book offers significant theoretical and methodological insights to religious studies scholars in general, but especially to scholars of Indigenous religions, anthropologists of religion, historians of American religions, and scholars of religion and gender. This roundtable discussion brings together junior and senior scholars of religious studies, Indigenous studies, and dance studies, to comment on this recent and important work and to engage in conversation with its author.

Dana Lloyd, Washington University, St. Louis
Abel Gomez, Syracuse University
Natalie Avalos, University of Colorado
Unregistered Participant
Cutcha Risling Baldy, Humboldt State University
Religion and Migration Unit and Secularism and Secularity Unit
Theme: Surveilling Muslims: Religion, Secularism, and Migration
Joseph Blankholm, University of California, Santa Barbara, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-15B (Mezzanine Level)

These papers consider the effects of surveillance and suspicion in attempts to regulate religion, and in particular, Islam. The first paper analyzes the implications of gendered “secular sensibilities” on Muslim French men of Algerian origin, with attention to their interactions with the state at the moment of civil (and often transnational) marriage. The second paper probes the productive effects of the covert War on Terror through the case of the proliferation of spies and informants in US Muslim communities in Los Angeles, CA. The third paper considers the role of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web in the creation of atheist-, secular-, and ex-Muslim identities. And the fourth paper examines how secular legal processes at the borders of modern nation-states affirm and authorize particular forms of religious and political subjectivity, while also producing the boundary between religion and non-religion.

Jennifer A. Selby, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Secular Masculinities and Migratory Marital “Love Fraud” in Contemporary France

With few exceptions (Amir-Moazami 2016), social scientific literature that examines the “secular body” has focused on how political-legal regimes render women’s bodies “secular” in the public sphere, particularly those who are racialized and conspicuously religious (see Fadil 2009; Fassin 2010; Asad 2011; Connolly 2011; Hirschkind 2011; Fernando 2014; Lloyd 2016; Selby 2019). In contrast, this paper proposes analysis of the implications of gendered “secular sensibilities” on Muslim French men of Algerian origin, with attention to their interactions with the state at the moment of civil (and often transnational) marriage. These encounters take place in a political context shaped by 2006 laws curtailing transnational marriage migration and a 2011 directive to marriage officiants to look for “romantic love” through markers of free-choice, sexual intimacy and “secularism.” My ethnographic data and interviews with men show surprising responses to the continued surveillance of their sexual mores amidst narrow masculine French state secular mores.

Matt Sheedy, University of Manitoba
Emerging Ex-Muslim Identities in the Snares of the Intellectual Dark Web

In this paper I argue that the recent and ongoing popularity of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) has created new alliances between atheist figures such as Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, and Joe Rogan, with religious figures such Majid Nawaz and Jordan Peterson under the guise of a shared belief in 'Western values.' One thing that has not been widely explored in these debates is how the emergence of the IDW in the era of Donald Trump has created rifts within ‘ex-Muslim’ communities, where the increased presence and normalization of white nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment has forced some ex-Muslims to reconsider their alliances with secular and atheist movements, and in some cases abandon them altogether. In this way, I argue that the popularity of the IDW has unintentionally opened up space for the social evolution (or differentiation) of atheist-, secular-, and ex-Muslim identity formations.

M. Bilal Nasir, Northwestern University
FBI Surveillance, Suspicion, and Islamic Skepticism in Muslim America

For the last seventeen years, the US State has paired its imperial militarism in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan with a “quiet” domestic war that relies on a myriad of special agents, spies, and informants to collect “counterintelligence” on subversives and preemptively disrupt terrorist plots. While scholarship concerning these national security practices have overwhelmingly focused on the repressive function of surveillance, in this essay I probe the productive effects of this covert War on Terror through the case of the proliferation of spies and informants in US Muslim communities in Los Angeles, CA. I specifically examine the affective and critical responses of pious Muslims to the capture of Craig Monteilh, an FBI informant hired to infiltrate mosque communities and entrap Muslim youth in LA, to consider how the secular attitude of suspicion in the age of national security intersects with and shapes ideas and practices of Islamic skepticism.

Mona Oraby, Amherst College
Religion in Europe Unit
Theme: Religion and the Construction of European Identities
Jonathan Teubner, Australian Catholic University, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Aqua 310A (Third Level)

Europe for many is still essentially ‘Christian,' whether in a cultural sense or through its institutions, norms, and values. But at least since the 1960s Europe has undergone significant transformations towards secularization and de-christianization. The preoccupation of European societies with these developments has sometimes overlooked the longstanding presence of minority European faiths and the roles they have played in forming diverse and, at times, conflicting European identities. Today, Islam is often at the forefront of these identity debates, as are other legal and political concepts such as ‘sovereignty’ and ‘rights’ (both human and animal). This panel seeks to explore the dynamics between dominant European identities and the religious Others that reflect, refract, or upend those identities. Using case studies from across Western Europe as well as comparative theoretical approaches, these papers invite us to consider the ways in which historical, political, legal, and religious factors intersect to influence European identity formation.

Karin Neutel, University of Oslo
The Myth of a Christian Europe: The Bible as a Tool for European Identity Construction in Recent Migration Debates

The claim that Europe has a specifically Christian identity has made a remarkable comeback in recent political discourse, especially on the topic of migration. This paper will focus on the figure of the neighbor, and the idea of neighbourly love in recent political debate. Examples from the Netherlands, Norway and Germany show the diverse ways in which this motif is employed, in connection with policies towards refugees and migrants. Bringing up the question of who counts as the neighbour allows politicians to argue for the importance of ‘our own people’, and to justify relegating the interests of ‘the stranger, the foreigner’ to a secondary concern. By explicitly connecting this argument to a Biblical context, it can be presented as a duty which stems from a commitment to Christian values, rather than a political choice, and can be used as a reproach against other political groups, which fail in this duty.

Richard Amesbury, Clemson University
Constructing "Religion", Performing "the People": Sovereignty and Populism in Germany and the United States

Recent years have witnessed the rise in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere of right-wing political movements – commonly dubbed “populisms” – that purport to speak in the name of distinctive “peoples” under threat from above/within by feckless “elites” and from below/outside by Muslims and non-white immigrants. These movements are notable for, inter alia, the distinctive ways they deploy language about religion. I argue – against the view put forward by Marzouki, McDonnell, Roy, and others – that the significance of religious language in these political debates is only secondarily a matter of its strategic deployment for purposes of demarcating and defending otherwise arbitrary and historically contingent societal boundaries. Rather, I contend that what is at stake is the question of sovereignty – that is, of final political authority. Through a comparison of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party with evangelical forms of populism in the United States, I argue that the category of religion, which historically has been constructed monotheistically, provides the discursive framework within which sovereignty is imagined to be conferred on specific “peoples.”

Matthew Hotham, Ball State University
Bloody Beasts: Halal Butchering, Eid Sacrifice, and the Making of Muslim Monsters

In 2016, PETA staged a series protests throughout Europe. The protests linked 2nd wave feminism, animal rights discourse, and Islamophobia through inverting the logic of Adams’ Sexual Politics of Meat. They used women’s carved and packaged bodies to make a statement about animal rights. In London, the protest involved a reenactment of Halal slaughter. Sara Farris argues that far right parties in Europe utilize femonationalism to exclude male Muslim migrants, “save” Muslim women for the purposes of serving as underpaid care workers, and silence or stall political movements pushing for women’s equality. I argue that an allied tactic is veganationalism – the portrayal of Halal slaughter, carried out by Muslim men, as uniquely bloody and violent. Media portrayals of Eid al-Adha and Halal butchering play a key role in the construction of Euro-America Islamophobia, which has ongoing legal repercussions for both Muslim and Jewish dietary practices.

Peter O'Brien, Trinity University
Unregistered Participant
Islamophobia and Europhobia in Europe

The paper examines the relationship between Islamophobic and Europhobic discourses in Europe. Whereas Islamophobia revolves around the assertion that Islam poses a grave threat to the West, Europhobia asserts the reverse. The paper spotlights three examples of Islamophobic othering and Europhobic reverse othering in Europe. European Islamists counter the claim that Islam is incompatible with democracy by contending that European democracy is a hypocritical sham when it comes to equal rights for Muslims. Islamists reverse the claim that Islam is misogynistic by arguing that Europe sexualizes and thereby represses women. Islamists oppose the claim that Islam is inherently expansionist by insisting that Europe continues to harbor (neo)imperialist designs toward the Islamic(ate) World.

Business Meeting:
Elissa Cutter, Georgian Court University
Religions in the Latina/o Americas Unit and Women and Religion Unit
Theme: Women and Religio-Political Activism in the Latina/o Americas
Chris Tirres, DePaul University, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 411B (Fourth Level)

The papers in this session critically examine women's religious and political liberation movements in Latin Americas.

Ernesto Fiocchetto, Florida International University
The Beginning of Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Mendoza Argentina: The Complex Roles of Catholicism and Women

Within the context of the Dirty War in Argentina, this presentation aims to address the beginning of Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Mendoza. This group of women started to struggle for the safe return of their young sons and daughters, who were desaparecidos by the military forces, in a Catholic Parish located in Godoy Cruz, one of the most populated cities in the province of Mendoza. This history is still hushed up to a large degree. The recognition or non-recognition of both the role of the Madres within the Church and the role of the Church in the beginning of the Madres implies the construction of pretended “true memories” that show the “crack” that already exists between different sectors of the Catholic Church and the Argentine Episcopate that is alienate from the people and the social and historical realities..

Susana L. Gallardo, San Jose State University
"I Never Left the Church": Belonging and Resistance in Mexican American Catholicism

This paper shares my historical ethnographic research with two members of a rather amazing feminist group that emerged out of an otherwise orthodox Catholic retreat group at a poor urban predominantly Latina/o parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Jose in the 1960s and 70s. I use cultural citizenship theory to explore how within this cursillo community the women brought a growing sense of gendered and racialized identity to their religious faith, consistently asking some difficult questions. Ultimately, the support and solidarity they found in the cursillo enabled them to contest the existing white patriarchal authority of the institution even--and most importantly--while maintaining a sense of belonging to the institution. Ultimately, I will argue that the dissent and independence of these women and men are not a rejection of the church, but rather the most intimate kind of engagement with it.

Betsy Konefal, College of William and Mary
Marjorie Melville
Social Justice, Christian Revolution, and "Tyranny" in 1960s Guatemala: A Conversation with Marjorie Melville

This paper examines the long-term influences of a relatively radical vision of social justice and rights as it developed in the 1960s in Guatemala. It follows the organizing work of the young nun and teacher Marjorie Bradford (later Melville), as she and her Guatemala City-area students worked with marginalized urban populations, and then began volunteering in the distant Mayan highlands. In the wake of Vatican II, their initiatives and discussions focused ever more intently on how to achieve structural change in Guatemala, and they drew on and put into practice ideas of consciousness-raising and what would come to be known as “critical pedagogy.” Eventually some entered into dialogue with a small armed insurgency, a step that resulted in the expulsion from Guatemala of Marjorie (and Tom and Art Melville) in December 1967. Includes conversation with Marjorie Melville.

Cecilia Titizano, Graduate Theological Union
Theology and Religious Reflection Unit
Theme: Pasts and Futures in the Present
Eleanor Craig, Harvard University, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-17B (Mezzanine Level)

This session looks at different temporalities in the present: pasts that remain alive or provide resources for understanding and thinking about the present or redirecting the future, histories of bodies and labors in memory, church, and university, and cosmologies that might give the anthropocene a different relation to itself.

Heather Major, University of Glasgow
“It’s Aye Been”: A Sojourner’s Perspective on the Relationship between Past, Present, and Future in Scottish Churches

The phrase, “it’s aye been”, is a Scots phrase meaning, “it has always been this/that way”, usually with the implication that “it will always be this/that way”. It can be used in relation to identity and in response to proposals of change or questions that challenge the status quo. This paper seeks to explore the phrase in relation to church life in the Scottish Borders. It is based on the author’s PhD research into rural Scottish churches, reflecting on two years of immersive fieldwork in two case study churches and their associated villages. This paper examines common uses of the phrase and implications for identity and practice, arguing that intentional reflection on the past provides an opportunity for transformation in the future.

Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Fordham University
Ghosts of Our Past Informing Our Present

Women of color built university systems that produce theological subjects, yet institutional history has erased them. Using the sociological frame offered by Avery Gordon (Ghostly Matters) and a historical project modeled on Craig Wilder (Ebony and Ivy), case studies of women in Jesuit and public institutions reveal the absent presences who gave their lives and labors in the creation of educational systems. This paper adopts a particular attachment to the past in order to recognize the class-constructed and class-constructing university systems of the present, and the role the ghosts play in calling for the redress necessary in changing practices today.

Sam Mickey, University of San Francisco
Politics for the Anthropocene: From Anthropocentric to Anthropocosmic

Environmental thinkers often criticize religions for anthropocentrism, whereby political agency is given to humans while nonhuman nature is excluded from social space. Non-anthropocentrism tends toward the reverse problem, redistributing agency to nonhuman life (biocentrism) and land (ecocentrism) while marginalizing social concerns. The anthropocentric/non-anthropocentric dichotomy fails to address the complex challenges of the Anthropocene, wherein the natural and social are inextricably entangled, as are the global and the local. The Chinese government’s model of sustainable development—“ecological civilization”—avoids this dichotomy by drawing on what Tu Weiming calls the “anthropocosmic” vision of Confucianism, for which the human and the world are intimately intertwined. Scholars of religion and ecology have noted that this anthropocosmic orientation appears in religions cross-culturally, and its political implementation can be limiting and liberating. Articulating religious contributions to Anthropocene politics, this paper considers the promising and problematic aspects of the turn from anthropocentric to anthropocosmic politics.

Unregistered Participant
An Image for the Anthropocene

There is a danger that the promised devastation of the Anthropocene will overwhelm our abilities, both material and symbolic, to respond to such an unprecedented crisis. Taking my cue from Jonathan Lear's "radical hope," I begin with a reflection on the “bone church” at Sedlec in the Czech Republic, which is decorated with the bones of over 40,000 bodies. The ossuary embodies Iris Murdoch’s notion that human beings in the end are so powerless that there is nothing that cannot be taken from you. The paper proceeds with a philosophical reflection holding Murdoch’s statement in tension with Julian of Norwich’s claim that the future is ultimately hopeful. These claims seem to negate each other, yet such a dialectic can capture how the Anthropocene’s despairing realism seems to mock pretensions at hope. The aim is to reclaim images as resources for realistic hope and agency in an unprecedented age for humanity.

  • Films
Theme: Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story Film Premiere and Panel Discussion
Michael Pasquier, Louisiana State University, Presiding
Saturday - 8:00 PM-10:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Cobalt 500 (Fifth Level)

From Emmy award-winning filmmaker Martin Doblmeier comes a new documentary that explores the life of one of the most remarkable religious figures of the 20th century - Catholic social activist Dorothy Day. The film examines her early years writing for communist newspapers, befriending Eugene O’Neill and struggling with love. But her conversion to the Catholic faith changed everything. Day went on to co-foundered the Catholic Worker Movement that included homes of hospitality for the poor, and The Catholic Worker newspaper that placed her in the midst of the most important social and political events of her era. She was a traditional Catholic, grandmother to nine children and a constant target of the FBI.

The film features interviews with biographer Robert Ellsberg, actor/activist Martin Sheen, granddaughters Kate and Martha Hennessy, writer Joan Chittester, Sojourners’ editor Jim Wallis, public theologian Cornel West and others.

The film is being scheduled for broadcast on PBS stations for March 2020 for Women’s History Month.

Martin Doblmeier is founder of Journey Films in Alexandria, VA. He has produced more than 30 award-winning films on topics of religion, faith and spirituality including: BONHOEFFER, The Power of Forgiveness, CHAPLAINS, The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, The Howard Thurman Story – all premiered at past AAR events.

Martin Doblmeier, Journey Films
Robert Ellsburg, Orbis Books
Jack Downey, University of Rochester
Brianne Jacobs, Emmanuel College
  • Books under Discussion
Buddhism in the West Unit
Theme: Recovering Pasts, Imagining Futures: A Roundtable Conversation about New Books on Buddhism in the West
Kim Lam, Deakin University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-16B (Mezzanine Level)

Join authors and critics in a roundtable discussion of three new books on Buddhism in the United States: Wakoh Shannon Hickey’s Mind Cure: How Meditation Became Medicine, Duncan Ryūken Williams’ American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War and Ann Gleig’s American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity. Grounded in careful historic and ethnographic work, all three books challenge dominant narratives in studies of Buddhism in the West by highlighting issues of race and focusing on communities of practice rather than individual virtuoso teachers. Two respondents, who are specialists in Asian American Buddhism and Buddhist modernism in Asia and North America, will comment on each text individually, highlighting their unique contributions as well as consider the ways in which as a collection these texts revise scholarly understandings of Buddhist history in America and advance new analytic paradigms for theorizing Buddhism in the West.

Duncan Williams, University of Southern California
Ann Gleig, University of Central Florida
Wakoh Shannon Hickey, Notre Dame of Maryland University
Jane Naomi Iwamura, University of the West
Unregistered Participant
Business Meeting:
Wakoh Shannon Hickey, Notre Dame of Maryland University
Scott Mitchell, Institute of Buddhist Studies
Hinduism Unit
Theme: Making Home, Marking Space: Negotiating Local, Global, and Spatial Identities in Contemporary Diaspora Hinduisms
George Pati, Valparaiso University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-26B (Upper Level East)

This session offers ethnographic explorations of diverse contemporary forms of diaspora Hinduism from around the world and the ways that participants in these forms of Hinduism create and negotiate local, spatial, and global identities outside of the Hindu “homeland,” India. In geography, “place-” or “spatial” identity refers to the sense of connection that people experience between themselves, particular places, and activities associated with these places. The four papers in this session consider such identity formation in Hindu communities, places, and practices in Indonesia, Europe, North America, and Thailand. Collectively, we highlight patterns that emerge through these Hinduisms and suggest new scholarly paradigms for framing them. In so doing, we also examine the roles that gender, economic change, political change, and migration patterns play in shaping the Hindu phenomena we explore.

Saran Suebsantiwongse, Cambridge University
The Rise of Hindu Spiritual Tourism in Central Javanese Villages

This paper aims to examine ways that Hindu villages in Central Java, Indonesia, have recently begun reinvigorating and recreating a moribund Hindu heritage by building new Hindu temples, homestays and healing centers. The talk will focus on one Javanese Hindu village, Duhuk Demping, which recently made headlines when it consecrated a new Hindu temple, Menara Dewa, in the midst of its bid for a Javanese Hindu revival. In his attempt to revive and redeploy ancient forms of Javanese Hinduism for the needs of the modern era, Duhuk Demping's main religious leader, Mangkito, has announced plans to make Menara Dewa a learning center for the growing number of Indonesian and foreign ‘spiritual seekers’ who wish to learn about Javanese Hindu religion and philosophy. The paper will examine the ways these villages are raising the profile of an ancient Hindu heritage to remake themselves into spiritual hubs. It will also examine surrounding Muslim villages’ reactions to the rising profile of Javanese Hinduism and the challenges Hindu villagers are facing in their attempts to revive Hinduism in an economically viable way.

Knut Axel Jacobsen, University of Bergen
Sacralisation of Space and Hindu Pilgrimage Sites in Europe

One Hindu response to diaspora and migration is to establish new sacred sites outside of India. This paper examines several such new Hindu sites, as well as the rise of pilgrimage travel (tīrthayātrā) to these sites, in Europe. These European Hindu pilgrimage sites consist mostly of temples and āśramas. Hindus in Europe continue South Asian Hindu traditions of establishing new pilgrimage sites based on lives of sacred persons as well as religious visions and encounters with Hindu divinities. The paper argues that Hindus tend to connect to space in a way that sacralizes it wherever they live, and that establishing new pilgrimage sites sanctions the new space as sacred, creating an alternative or an additional sacred geography to complement that of the ancestral homeland.

Diana Dimitrova, University of Montreal
Bridging Continents: Radhasoami Centers in North America

This paper explores the nature of Radhasoami communities in Canada and the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Drawing on data derived from interviews with Radhasoami followers, the paper focuses on the cultural identity of North American Radhasoami followers while considering several aspects of the globalization of the Radhasoami movement. Radhasoami centers are at the heart of community life, and it is at these centers that North American Radhasoami adherents acquire a new sense of hybrid or "glocal" cultural identity, with ties to both in India and in North America. This paper discusses how the globalizing impulses inherent in Radhasoami traditions are negotiated with North American Radhasoami communities' quest for a glocal cultural identity that maintains links with the homeland.

Jeremy Saul, Mahidol University
Hindu Devotion in Contemporary Thai Practice: The Indian Mystique

This paper suggests that the rising popularity of Hindu deities in Thailand in recent decades signals a modern Thai development of a Hindu “Indian mystique.” Scholarship on Thai religion beyond Buddhism has tended to privilege either traditional Brahmin elites or animistic spirit mediums. This talk attempts to shift the focus instead to a form of contemporary Thai religious practice that is Hindu deity oriented, modern, and non-elite, with an emphasis on rapidly gaining the fruits of globalized urban capitalism. I argue that Thai women in particular find that this Hindu religious approach to upwardly mobility obviates the constraints of traditional Thai Buddhism, in which they are expected to remain aloof from monks. This new Hindu Thai devotional culture has produced great demand for the services of expatriate Indian Brahmins and Indian musicians even though the Indian expatriate community itself remains insular, generally upholding a Vedanta monism that eschews Thais’ frankly materialistic devotion.

Tracy Pintchman, Loyola University, Chicago
Business Meeting:
Patton Burchett, College of William and Mary
Shubha Pathak, American University
  • Full Papers Available
Islam, Gender, Women Unit
Theme: New Directions in the Field of Islam and Gender
Justine Howe, Case Western Reserve University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire M (Fourth Level)

This workshop session focuses on new directions in the field of Islam and gender, organized around four pre-circulated articles and book chapters. Each table will focus on one paper and bring together the author, a facilitator, and interested readers. A broader discussion among all participants will finish the session. Attendees should choose and sign up for one of the four tables in advance and read the paper for discussion at that table prior to the session (accessible through the AAR website). Please contact Justine Howe ( to obtain access to the sign-up web form.

Zahra Ayubi, Dartmouth College
Martin Nguyen, Fairfield University
Prolegomenon to Feminist Philosophy of Islam

In this chapter, I identify philosophical problems that arise as a result of feminist reflection on the Ghazali-Tusi-Davani philosophical ethics tradition (akhlaq) and that warrant continued philosophical engagement. I ask how we might engage with akhlaq texts philosophically and explore answers to philosophical problems they pose. Such a philosophical engagement is fruitful because these texts address perennial human concerns about how to live, which pertain far beyond the genre of akhlaq and beyond Muslim contexts. I argue for the necessity of philosophical approaches to the study of gender in Islam and identify four central philosophical problems posed by male-centered akhlaq, which serve as a prolegomenon to feminist philosophy of Islam: 1) rationality as a standard for defining the human and human capacity, 2) the contradiction of patriarchy and khilafah, 3) essentialization of women that leads to new hierarchies, and 4) individual ethical refinement at the cost of utilization of others.

Juliane Hammer, University of North Carolina
Kayla Renée Wheeler, Grand Valley State University
Murder, Honor, and Culture: Mediatized Debates on Muslims and Domestic Violence

This chapter, from Peaceful Families: American Muslim Efforts against Domestic Violence(Princeton 2019), focuses on three subtopics that are held together by their common connection to media representations and public perception. As reflected in the title of the chapter, they are murder, honor, and culture. Murder refers to examples of the representation of the murder of/by Muslims in the press at the time of the incidents; honor explores discourses on honor killings related to Muslims; and culture probes constructions of culture between religion and race, employed in analysis of and explanations for domestic violence murders in Muslim communities. This chapters explores the connection between political goals and media production as they intersect with the lives of American Muslims and with the work of Muslim advocates against domestic violence.

Ali Altaf Mian, University of Florida
Ash Geissinger, Carleton University
Genres of Desire: The Erotic in Deobandi Islam

This article contributes to the burgeoning study of Islamicate sexualities by describing and analyzing “the erotic” in a modern South Asian Muslim community, namely the Deobandīs. In so doing I also highlight the resourcefulness of two methodological postures: (1) a trans-genre reading strategy by means of which I elaborate the performative lives of erotic desire in Deobandī texts as well as contexts and (2) a careful engagement with Michel Foucault’s biopolitical theory and Jacques Lacan’s idea of sublimation by means of which we can raise critical questions about religion and sexuality in modernity (its colonial and postcolonial variations).

Joseph Hill, University of Alberta
Ula Taylor, University of California, Berkeley
Wrapping Authority: Women Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal

Since around 2000, a growing number of women in Dakar, Senegal have come to act openly as spiritual leaders for both men and women. As urban youth turn to the Fayda Tijaniyya Sufi Islamic movement in search of direction and community, these women provide guidance in practicing Islam and cultivating mystical knowledge of God. While women Islamic leaders may appear radical in a context where women have rarely exercised Islamic authority, they have provoked surprisingly little controversy. Wrapping Authority tells these women’s stories and explores how they have developed ways of leading that feel natural to themselves and those around them. Addressing the dominant perceptions of Islam as a conservative practice, with stringent regulations for women in particular, this book eveals how women integrate values typically associated with pious Muslim women into their leadership. These female leaders present spiritual guidance as a form of nurturing motherhood; they turn acts of devotional cooking into a basis of religious authority and prestige; they connect shyness, concealing clothing, and other forms of feminine “self-wrapping” to exemplary piety, hidden knowledge, and charismatic mystique. Yet like Sufi mystical discourse, their self-presentations are profoundly ambiguous, insisting simultaneously on gender distinctions and on the transcendence of gender through mystical unity with God.

Kathryn M. Kueny, Fordham University
Business Meeting:
Justine Howe, Case Western Reserve University
Saadia Yacoob, Williams College
Liberation Theologies Unit
Theme: Landscapes of Liberation: Building New Horizons of Bodies, Borders, and Belonging
Maria T. Davila, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-4 (Upper Level West)

The context of the 2019 AAR meeting in San Diego places concrete demands on all of us to consider how bodies, borders, and belonging are constructed as physical and symbolic realities, powerful enough to determine the life prospects of millions of human beings and the planet. These shifting conceptions of realities are determined by border crisis, military developments, ecological disasters, criminalization and invisibilization of growing homeless and refugee populations, and communal displacement by industrial complexes. The transformations we witness in the San Diego area are not unique, and have devastating correlates at the regional, national and global levels.

Nixon Shabalom Cleophat, Bloomfield College
Vodou, an Inclusive Epistemology: Toward A Queer Eco-Theology of Liberation

In this paper, I argue that Haitian Vodou embodies an epistemology that can be used to address issues related to ecology, gender and sexuality. I maintain that Vodou ecological ethics can be used to address forms of oppression such as ecocide, sexism and homophobia.

Rebecca David-Hensley, Denver University, Iliff School of Theology
Gendering Immigration: A Liberative Feminist Hermeneutic for Crossing the US/Mexico Border

In a U.S. neoliberal economic structure that simultaneously encourages, discourages, and sometimes forces migration – Latin American women become the objects of brutally sexualized violence. Furthermore, those who manage to settle on U.S. soil are often under continual threat of deportation and family separation. As primary caretakers for their families, women are faced with the excruciating decision of remaining in life-threatening situations or risking their lives and/or the lives of their children in hopes of surviving the treacherous journey north – only to face gender, class, and racial discrimination upon arrival.

This paper argues that migratory patterns from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have become gendered in such a way that the crisis falls primarily on the shoulders of women, making border-crossing a predominately women’s issue. Therefore, the voices of Latin American liberative feminist theologians should be the primary source for theologizing and seeking solutions grounded in race, class, and gender justice.

Daniel Hauge, Boston University
The Comforts of “Home”: White Comfort as Boundary Marker

Contemporary debates over ‘border security’ and immigration restrictions frequently employ the metaphor of a personal dwelling—a home—as an analogy for the nation as a whole. The popular argument, “Would you allow someone into your house uninvited?” or the provocation, “How many refugees have you taken in to your home?” present an intuitive, affective appeal—to an an experience of comfort generally expected in a secure, private dwelling. This paper will argue that the embodied experience of white comfort constitutes the predominant benchmark by which national borders—be they geographic, cultural, or institutional—are drawn and enforced. Drawing upon phenomenological approaches to racism employed by critical whiteness scholars, I analyze white comfort as an experiential state constructed by white supremacy that also functions as a power, constantly creating and violently reinforcing boundaries in order to preserve itself.

Sunder John Boopalan, Princeton Theological Seminary
Borders, Bodies, Power, and Affect

Given their explicit attention to contextual realities, liberation theologies have different expressions in various global contexts. One element they all have in common, however, is a sustained interest in the effects of historical processes. Dalit theology, a liberation theology arising from the struggles and hopes of Dalit communities in India, is in attunement with such critical analyses of the factors that shape power and domination. By drawing comparisons between the geography of a typical Indian village/town—in which bodies are segregated by caste belonging—and the increasing gentrification in towns and cities in the U.S.—in which bodies are segregated by the aftereffects of racialized geographies—the paper argues that domination today is better understood through affective encounters or the lack thereof, thus revealing the need for comparative studies of borders and bodies. In thus doing, Dalit liberation theology is brought into fruitful conversation with liberation theologies in the U.S.

Sylvia Marcos, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Crossing Borders: Between Theologies and Feminisms in the Contemporary Mexican Political Context

An analytical review of a women´s liberation theology meeting in Mexico debating a site within feminist theologies for committments and practices that are strongly influenced by Mesaoemrican indigenous references, seeing "religion as a place of struggle and inspiration for women". What emerged was a proposal of certainty that change and comittment was urgently needed as well to be a part of that change. The women participants engage in very local liberation theology struggles in their parishes including efforts to preserve clean water or to protest against toxic garbage dumps. Results affirmed we have: to remain aware and active and to not passively accept church mandates for gender and political obedience; to free our bodies from the constraints of a moral order in which women are considered inferior and instructed to be passive; to firmly draw attention and demand an end to the abuse and murder of women in Mexico.

Business Meeting:
Santiago H. Slabodsky, Hofstra University
  • Presidential Theme: Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces
Sacred Texts, Theory, and Theological Construction Unit and SBL Contextual Biblical Studies Unit and SBL Ideological Criticism Unit
Theme: Unexamined Contexts and Public Entanglements
James Grimshaw, Carroll University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hilton Bayfront-Aqua A (Third Level)

(Co-Sponsored with the Contextual Biblical Studies Unit and the Ideological Criticism Unit of SBL) This papers session focuses on the multiple overlaying, unexamined, hidden forces and conditions of biblical and theological scholarship. What is still taken for granted even when scholars attempt to make explicit their contexts and assumptions? What remains unsaid when scholars speak about their own location and cultural/subjective positioning? How do scholars continue to interrogate those contexts (e.g., species, geographical, academic, gender, sexuality, race, ability)? What theories and experiences might help us complicate the question of where we come from, what forces affect our work,and who our imagined audiences are? In short, the papers in this session lead us to think richly about how we interrogate unexamined contexts.

Amanda DiMiele, Yale University
Contextualizing White Womanhood: Rethinking Method in Feminist Theology and Ethics

Challenged by black feminists and feminists of color to account for their racialization and its effects on their work, white feminists developed a set of strategies with a common methodological commitment: mark whiteness in order to dismantle it. This paper, however, contends that as long as white feminists remain trapped in strategies that promise to fix the problem of white womanhood—the problem of how to mark whiteness without white supremacy—we not only hit intellectual dead ends, but we actually reproduce white supremacy. I argue for a new methodological orientation: what I call, following Sara Ahmed, unpromising methods. Unpromising methods focus on what whiteness does, not on what we do to whiteness. By promising no solutions, they help us better understand how white womanhood actually functions as a category. This line of inquiry opens up generative questions foreclosed by the methodology now predominant in theological reflections on white womanhood.

Unregistered Participant
Speciesism as a Hidden Context for Biblical Interpretation

What are the implications of the fact that all biblical interpretation is done by humans who are reading texts written by other humans? With the rise of animal studies and posthumanism in the humanities and social sciences, should we begin to recognize “speciesism” as a “hidden context” for biblical interpretation? Although the term “speciesism” is closely associated with discourses of animal liberation (e.g., Peter Singer), it has also been theorized by such thinkers as Cary Wolfe as a structural institution with roots “stretching back at least to Plato and the Old Testament” (Animal Rites, 6), and with traceable links to—but also distinctions from—other forms of structure and difference such as race, gender, nation, and class. This paper starts from a perspective similar to Wolfe’s in order to explore some of the challenges faced by those who would analyze speciesism as a context for written texts in general and biblical texts in particular. Since speciesism is not a single phenomenon, however, it also identifies several different perspectives found in particular texts from the Hebrew Bible (from Genesis and legal texts to Psalm 104 and certain wisdom texts) as a framework for acknowledging speciesism as an issue to be explored further by contextual biblical interpretation.

Unregistered Participant
Vulnerability Be Damned: Compulsory Able-Bodiedness in Pauline Scholarship

Although some scholarship has focused on disability and the Bible, most of the attention has been paid, not to a critical interrogation of how scholars reproduce ableism in their scholarship, but to representations of disability – primarily in the Hebrew Bible, though also in the New Testament, and mostly concerning the Gospels. Pauline studies are mostly absent from this conversation, and when attention has been made to Paul, the biblical text has been used to construct him as “the first theologian of disability,” and his ‘body of Christ’ metaphor given as proof that he is on the side of those of us with disabilities. The search for the disabled body in the text is paired with the Bible as the advocate for folks labelled ‘disabled.’ These approaches, though interesting, do not undermine the system that creates and perpetuates the Normal that produces disability. Robert McRuer in his article, Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence , using Adrienne Rich’s term “compulsory heterosexuality,” advocates, similarly, for the interrogation and resistance to “Compulsory able-bodiedness” that is used to ‘discipline’ bodies which do not meet the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘able:” “having an able body, i.e. one free from physical disability, and capable of the physical exertions required of it; in bodily health; robust.” People who cannot ‘pass’ are made “Other.” Using compulsory able-bodiedness as the hidden context which dominates Pauline scholarship, I will demonstrate: a) how ‘Paul’ is consistently constructed as the authentically able-bodied hero from less than robust historical evidence; and b) how scholarship that seeks to resist this norm is itself tainted with the characteristics ascribed to those with less than ‘robust’ bodies – and “put in their place” outside the boundaries of ‘normal.’

Emily Askew, Lexington Theological Seminary
Affirming Madness as an Unexpected Context in Mark 5:1-20: Reflections on Jesus, the Academy, and the Structural Sin of “Sanism”

In this paper, I will argue that Jesus’ identity as the Christ is much more tenuously claimed when Mark 5:1-20 is read through the unexpected contextual lens of mad hermeneutics. Further, I will claim that destabilizing the text and it’s Christological center through the affirmational lens of madness serves as a point of reflection on the larger academy’s discomfort with and even rejection of those who claim a subject position of “mad.” Indeed, the hegemony of strict interpretations of reason and the structural sin of “sanism” in the academy, leave those of us who live with non-normative thought processes silenced and invisible, as becomes the case for the man from Gerasa. It is my hope that a mad reading of the man from Gerasa will open up larger questions of how we can and should make visible space in our biblical interpretations, theological imaginations and institutions for the mad as a valuable form of being human rather than as a stigmatized, pathologized and medicated anomaly. To make my claims, I will first define and situate the emerging field of mad studies and hermeneutics in the larger landscape of disability theory/theology/biblical interpretation and forms of liberation theologies. I will argue that the reclamation of the word “mad” is in keeping with other liberations projects such as Crip theory/theology and Queer biblical studies/theology, (off shoots of disabilities studies and LGBTQIA theology, respectively) in which a pejorative label returns to help create a space of interpretive and activist resistance to rhetorical and practical strategies of “normality.” I then apply a mad reading to Mark 5:1-20 and challenge both traditional notions of the Gerasene man’s “cure” and more liberative readings of his “healing” (as being restored to community) concluding that he is left without voice or community in the end. Following this reading, I will argue that his silencing and isolation for the larger good of Jesus’ identity as the Christ replicates the results of an unproblematized acceptance of reason and sanity in the authority of the academy. Ironically, in my own context of theological education, where we invoke the movement of Spirit in our committee meetings, and teach the unexpected mystical experiences between women religious and God, how does “sanism” prevail and join in silencing epistemologies of difference?

David Lambert, University of North Carolina
The Problem of Interiority in Biblical Interpretation

Charles Taylor and others have helped map out how changing conceptions of the self have led to an increased focus on “inwardness” in the West. The conception of the human being as a creature with inner feelings and thoughts, on one hand, and outward behaviors, on the other, has taken hold and become a naturalized, inevitable, and near universal component of both religious and secular culture. Recent inquiry in the humanities and social sciences focusing on the importance of embodiment and performance have criticized this dualistic model, often associated with Descartes, but have hardly uprooted its discursive hold over the popular imagination. How does this model of human nature affect biblical interpretation? In this paper, I will explore its "hidden" effects within the context of our translation traditions, focusing on a range of Biblical Hebrew terms associated with the self, thought, and emotions. I will show how our assumptions, our presuppositions, about “inwardness” and its primacy in defining human experience inform our interpretations of these terms and the passages in which they appear. Not incidentally, they also feed into a long history of anti-Judaism, namely the image of Judaism as a religion of the flesh rather than the spirit.

Western Esotericism Unit and SBL Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity Unit
Theme: Modern Use of Ancient Texts and Artifacts
Grant Adamson, University of Arizona, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hilton Bayfront-Aqua 305 (Third Level)

This session explores the reuse of ancient texts in the western reception history of mysticism, esotericism, and gnosticism from the Greco-Roman world. It will emphasize adaptation, not just transmission, in the antique, medieval, and modern periods.

April D. DeConick, Rice University
Artifact Migration and the Transfer of Ancient Knowledge into Modernity

This paper is a small part of a larger book project on the sociology of Gnostic spirituality that I am working on called The Gnostic Awakening: How an Ancient Countercultural Spirituality Migrated to America. Within this context, the process of what I call artifact migration is central. Artifact migration occurs when artifacts like texts or art objects that have been produced in another time and place and are unknown in a particular culture are transported into that culture. Two examples of artifact migration in modernity include the rediscovery of ancient religious texts that were lost and dropped from everyday use and erased from social memory, and the encounter of global religious texts by a culture unfamiliar with them. The question then is how the artifact’s new knowledge is transported into a foreign context and impacts religion in that cultural location. This paper theorizes the dynamics of artifact migration and the transfer of knowledge from antiquity.

Anne Kreps, University of Oregon
The Adaptation of 1 Enoch in the American Religious Imagination

Well before the Dead Sea Scroll discovery, 1 Enoch attracted interest from esoteric circles: In the Renaissance, Christian Kabbalists "recovered" lost books of Enoch and thereby produced new Kabbalistic commentary. Millenarian groups studied 1 Enoch for details about the end of times. The inclusion of Enoch in the Corpus Hermeticum solidified Enoch's status as an authoritative visionary. These same strategies of adaptation--rewriting, interpretation, and canonization--appear in today's religious landscape. This paper examines three New Religious Movements, unrelated to one another, who all claim to resurrect the ancient sect of the Essenes. One church has composed its own version of Enoch to describe their future role in healing the world after the ecological apocalypse. A second community completed a highly interpretive translation of 1 Enoch, to give scriptural support for their annual survivalist training retreat. A third, emerging from a Mormon context, recreated 1 Enoch’s solar calendar.

Marla Segol, State University of New York, Buffalo
Medical Embryologies Reborn: Mystical Narratives of Childbirth in Kabbalah, Jewish Prayer, and Contemporary Pregnancy Manuals

Childbirth is the ultimate threshold experience; it crosses physical, social, and existential boundaries as an occasion of utmost joy and suffering, and as such it is elaborately narrated and ritualized in religious traditions. This paper attends to the changing roles of Greek and Babylonian medical embryologies, retold in late antique Hebrew prayers, Jewish mystical texts, and ultimately in early modern women’s prayer books and contemporary pregnancy manuals. As these narratives are retold, their cosmological significance is expanded as they ritualized in prayer and other effective practices. In kabbalistic literature they come to stand in for the workings of the cosmos as a whole. In the early modern period, these kabbalistic inflected embryologies begin to appear in early modern Jewish women’s prayers called tkhines, and from there they are incorporated into women’s prayers and rituals for childbirth in contemporary Jewish psalm books and pregnancy manuals. There is now a growing canon of ‘spiritual pregnancy’ books, written mainly by and for women, which frame the experience as a mystical journey. All of these authors mythologize and ritualize pregnancy to frame it as a spiritual journey, and in this process they adapt old religious models to new ends. Surprisingly, both old and new sources synthesize both sacred and scientific narrative in the creation of new esoteric mythologies. And both old and new sources ritualize them as well. While historians of science have studied the development of embryological narratives, their use in religious discourse and ritual has been largely neglected, and their rich significance in religious life has yet to be understood. This paper begins the process of theorizing the function of esotericized medical embryologies in Jewish women’s prayer.

Stanislav Panin, Rice University
Transmission of Gnostic Ideas in Twentieth Century Russian Esotericism

Throughout the twentieth century, Gnostic ideas played an important role in Russian esotericism. This paper examines the transfer and adaptation of Gnostic ideas in the Soviet esoteric milieu. It begins with analysis of works of Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900), an Orthodox Christian philosopher and a scholarly writer whose publications were influential in development of interest to Gnosticism among Russian audience. The second part of the paper outlines an impact of Gnosticism during the Soviet period with an emphasis on ideas of Vasily Nalimov (1910–1997), a prominent figure of Soviet esotericism, and Gnostic legends that served as initiatory texts in Soviet esoteric communities of mystical anarchists. This analysis demonstrates that interest to Gnosticism was closely related to an attempt to find a new worldview that would provide a sense of meaning in a changing social environment and allow to construct a new social ideal.

Shannon Grimes, Meredith College
Zosimos & Theosebia: An Erotics of Alchemical Pedagogy

Zosimos of Panopolis, who flourished around 275 CE, is one of the best known writers in the Greco-Egyptian alchemical corpus. Many of his writings are addressed to his female colleague, Theosebia, though very little information about Theosebia or the nature of their relationship can be gleaned from the Greek literature. In medieval Arabic alchemical texts, however, the two of them appear as characters engaged in dialogue, and one manuscript, the Mushaf as-suwar, features numerous illustrations of Zosimos and Theosebia crowned with the sun and moon, representing various alchemical processes. This paper examines the relationship between these historical figures and argues that their relationship becomes dramatized in Arabic alchemical literature as an erotics of pedagogy, rooted in Ancient Near Eastern wisdom traditions and Platonic understandings of eros as an anagogical spiritual force.

  • Books under Discussion
Women and Religion Unit
Theme: Solidarity and Defiant Spirituality
Georgette Ledgister, Emory University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-24B (Upper Level East)

We need a decidedly anti-racist, border-crossing approach to creating, redefining, and expanding public sphere conversations about gender-based violence that takes seriously the role of religion and spirituality. Existing conversations inadequately reflect intersectional communal realities, leaving us ill equipped to develop this disruptive approach. Traci West’s Solidarity and Defiant Spirituality: Africana Lessons on Religion, Racism, and Ending Gender Violence eschews such siloing. West examines strategies for ending gender based violence by appreciating rather than resisting the complexities of intersectional women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and racial/ethnic studies in religion. With a transnational Africana perspective, it emphasizes experiential and embodied analyses of her encounters with activist leaders in Africa and South America. Starting with West’s dialogical method for producing knowledge and resistance to structural oppression and gender violence, this panel, comprised of a diverse group of scholars, will discuss their unique approaches to intersectional methods in gender and religion.

Thelathia Young, Bucknell University
Stephanie M. Crumpton, McCormick Theological Seminary
Sarojini Nadar, University of the Western Cape
Pui Lan Kwok, Episcopal Divinity School
Tracey Hucks, Colgate University
Traci C. West, Drew University
Business Meeting:
K. Christine Pae, Denison University
Stephanie May, First Parish in Wayland
  • Presidential Theme: Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces
Women's Caucus
Theme: Women’s Religious Biographies: Growing the Space for Women on Public Platforms like Wikipedia
Janice Poss, Claremont Graduate University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-14A (Mezzanine Level)

In support of the 1000 Women in Religion Project’s efforts to address systemic gender bias on
Wikipedia, this panel presents biographies about women who are not on Wikipedia but should be. Panelist will present original research and analysis that makes a strong case for each subject’s notability in her religious or spiritual area of influence even as they critique and reconsider these notability standards. Their research will be used to create a Wikipedia page for each of these notable women.

Melisa Ortiz Berry, Northwest Christian University
Eclipsed by the Shadow of Her Husband: Hymnist and Evangelist Bertha Mae Lillenas


Unregistered Participant
Being Bold and Speaking Clearly: The Pioneering Ministry of Rev. Dr. Yvonne V. Delk


Unregistered Participant
The Mother with Faith: Dr. Anna May Say Pa


Rosalind F. Hinton, Tulane University
New Orleans’ Jewish Legacies: Ida Weis Friend (1868-1963)


Unregistered Participant
Mae Eleanor Frey: Early 20th-Century Pentecostal Matriarch


Colleen D. Hartung, Holy Wisdom Monastery
Women's Caucus
Theme: The AAR/SBL Women’s Caucus International Network
Elizabeth Ursic, Mesa Community College, Presiding
Sunday - 11:45 AM-12:45 PM
Convention Center-14A (Mezzanine Level)

The AAR/ SBL Women’s Caucus is forming a network of gender and religion international scholars. Come join this exciting new initiative and participate in a brown bag discussion on how the AAR/ SBL Women’s Caucus can best serve international scholars at the AAR/ SBL annual conference and beyond.

Julia Enxing, University of Dresden
Unregistered Participant
Kathleen McPhillips, University of Newcastle
Jea Sophia Oh, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Unregistered Participant
Elaine Nogueira-Godsey, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Arts, Literature, and Religion Unit and Contemplative Studies Unit
Theme: Locating Contemplation beyond Traditions: Engagements with Art and Literature
Niki Clements, Rice University, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-24B (Upper Level East)

While contemplative practices, experiences, and discourses can be identified as a theme within the world’s religious traditions, as with many key categories in religious studies—such as ritual or asceticism—elements of contemplation also share affinities with cultural practices and phenomena from beyond religious traditions. Attempts to locate analogues outside of religious traditions can bring clarity to the definition and scope of “contemplative” or “contemplation,” while also highlighting the potentially unique aspects of contemplation both within and beyond the context of religious traditions. The papers in this session will reflect upon the meaning and significance of contemplation in select works of non-fiction nature writing, philosophy and literature, and the visual arts. In so doing, these papers will highlight the aesthetic, environmental, and political implications of contemplation in addition to the oft-discussed psychological and soteriological dimensions.

Douglas Christie, Loyola Marymount University
Helplessness, or the Holiday State of Mind: Agnes Martin’s Contemplative Vision

In her 1973 “Statement about Her Work,” Agnes Martin (1912-2004) notes: “Although helplessness is the most important state of mind, the holiday state of mind is the most efficacious for artists: ‘Free and easy wandering’ it is called by the Chinese sage Chuang Tzu.” This observation is suggestive of the long and complex work of reflection the artist engaged in regarding the role of the mind in the creative process. What she calls “the holiday state of mind”—open, free, unencumbered—stands in uneasy tension with “helplessness,” a state of mind the artist associates with blindness, darkness and even a sense of “complete panic,” and which she contends is indispensable to the artistic process. Both states of mind, I argue, can be understood as reflective of a contemplative orientation that guided the artist’s work throughout her life. This paper will consider Martin’s distinctive contribution to contemplative thought and practice.

Tracy Tiemeier, Loyola Marymount University
Contemplation and the Post-God Spirituality of Marc Vinciguerra’s The Religion of Atheism

Post-contemporary Parisian artist Marc Vinciguerra (b. 1970) has long been interested in the enduring power of the sacred in apparently secular spaces. Recently, he imagines this as an emergent form of the sacred, a religious impulse that arises from the fundamentally entangled projects of Western Christianity and Western atheism. The Religion of Atheism is a series of four life-size sculptures that depicts these twin projects and the evolution of what Vinciguerra calls a “post-God spirituality.” Rather than a negation of self, other, and God, the spirituality of sacred nihilism practices a resignation of self, other, and God to death, decay, and nonbeing. In resignation, nothingness itself is made holy. Marc Vinciguerra encourages viewers of The Religion of Atheism to practice resignation and enter into the embrace of sacred nothingness. I focus on the ways his construction of a post-God spirituality suggests an expanded notion of contemplation as resignation.

Jared Lindahl, Brown University
The Contemplative Mood of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain: An Embodied Ecocentric Epistemology

Nan Shepherd (1893-1981) was a Scottish novelist, poet, and mountaineer. Her sole work of creative non-fiction, The Living Mountain, is set in the Cairngorm mountains. More than a work of natural history, in this book Shepherd also describes engaging in intentional practices for cultivating attention and sense perception. These practices culminate in states of absorption and encounters with “the living mountain” understood as a dynamic entity. Although these practices and goals are uniquely her own, this paper will also engage with a Victorian era synopsis of Buddhist teachings that Shepherd read and considered. Among other things, this offers an explanation of Shepherd’s curious concluding paragraph in which she compares her own peregrinations through the Cairngorms to those of “Buddhist pilgrims” who are also on a “journey into Being.” The paper will conclude with a few reflections on how this project might contribute to current scholarly definitions of “contemplation.”

Stephen Bush, Brown University
Contemplation, Art, and the Racial Gaze

Walt Whitman implores us to regard our fellow citizens, individually and en masse, as beautiful and worthy of emotional attachment. Not beautiful in the sense of conformity to conventional standards of physical appearance, but in the sense that they deserve attention in virtue of their particularity and individuality as citizens and as humans. Furthermore, he sees this attentiveness as a vital democratic practice. I develop these insights through a discussion of the philosophy and literature of Iris Murdoch, who connects the contemplation of beauty to the formation of moral agency. Drawing from the work of Frantz Fanon, I discuss the risks of beauty in a pluralistic, diverse society, which can elicit anti-democratic attitudes toward the other, such as fascination and objectification. I then explore the possibility that contemplative attention to certain art works could foster the attitudes toward our fellow citizens that Whitman recommends, while countering anti-democratic habits of perception.

Amy M. Hollywood, Harvard University
Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Unit
Theme: Imperialism, Militarism, and the Religious Lives of Asian/Pacific Islander Americans
Melissa Borja, University of Michigan, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 410B (Fourth Level)

How have U.S. imperialism and militarism shaped Asian American religion, and how has religion offered Asian and Asian American people a way to intervene in U.S. imperialism and militarism? This interdisciplinary panel explores the complex intersection of war, empire, and religion. The first two papers offer historical case studies of the interplay of religion and religion: how Japanese American Buddhists in the early 20th century negotiated the state category of religion, which functioned as a bureaucratic mechanism of internal colonialism, and how Marshallese and American Protestants interpreted nuclear testing during 1940s and 1950s. The second half of the panel explores theology as a means of protesting imperialism and militarism. One paper draws on Christian thought and Korean ideas of “Han” to understand the memories of Korean “comfort women” and transform Asian and Asian American theologies, while the other uses Ruth Ozeki’s novels to present a theology of messianic shame as a form of prophetic witness.

Carleigh Beriont, Harvard University
“Children of Israel": Marshallese and American Theologies of Nuclear Testing, 1946-1958

This paper explores Marshallese and American Protestant theological interpretations of and reflections on American nuclear testing during 1940s and 1950s. It is part of a larger dissertation project that examines the relationships between Marshallese, American missionaries, and the U.S. military in the Marshall Islands during the early Cold War, when the U.S. administered the Islands as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific and conducted sixty-seven nuclear tests on and around the Islands and their inhabitants. By focusing on Marshallese, missionaries and cultural, political, and territorial imperialism during an era commonly considered to be postcolonial, my work challenges common historical periodizations, geographies, and processes of American imperialism and evangelism and locates the Marshall Islands as a site of American religious history.

Jesse Lee, Florida State University
Recognizably Religious: On the Buddhist Churches of America, Citizenship, and Religious Translation

This essay discusses how the Buddhist Mission to North America responded to and negotiated the legal and political circumstances of anti-Japanese legislation throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Through this negotiation process, these communities discovered that legal rights and recognition from the American state necessitated adaptations to their religious and organizational standards. Consequently, Japanese American Buddhists translated their religion and religious communities into a language recognizable, literally into English and figuratively into state categories of religion, to both political authorities and cultural observers. This essay argues that this translation project represents a bureaucratic mechanism of internal colonialism in which the American category of religion is materially impressed upon such communities. As such, the necessity for Japanese American Buddhists to interact with and make themselves legible to the state through bureaucratic processes instilled them with American definitions and ideologies that link religious authenticity and authorization with American citizenship.

Sung Uk Lim, Yonsei University
Memories of Suffering in Asia for Asian American Contexts: In Search of a New Model to Remember Comfort Women in the Future

In January 2019, the activist Kim Bok-Dong passed away, leaving 23 known Korean comfort women who still are alive today. With the first-hand testimonies from comfort women quickly transitioning from being living history to past testimony, this study aims to re-member them into the future of not only the Korean people, but Asian-American theology as well. To do this, it proposes a hermeneutical model based on Kuan-Hsing Chen’s “Asia as method” that places in conversation the theologies of Johann Baptist Metz, Angela Sims, Miroslav Volf, and the Korean concept of Han to read the memories of comfort women as dangerous memories that can re-member a future of freedom from sexual violence, trauma, and militarism, along with other possible challenges. In particular, for Asian-Americans, those dangerous memories interrupt the de rigueur of Asian-American communities that conveniently ignore or assent silently to forms of sexualizations, traumas, patriarchies, classist, and imperialist desires.

B. Yuki Schwartz, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Messianic Shame in the Novels of Ruth Ozeki

This paper places the writings of Giorgio Agamben’s homo sacer series in conversation with the works of Asian North American novelist Ruth Ozeki, presenting an Asian American theology of messianic shame in the context of US imperialism. Recognizing shame not just as a personal experience, but as part of imperial political strategies and systemic policies that marginalizes and glorifies identities and histories, this paper uses Ozeki’s novels to ground and challenge the framework for messianic shame that Agamben has laid out throughout his writings. Reading Ozeki’s novels as critical Asian American cultural productions that function as an unsettling hermeneutic through which to read US identity and values, this paper examines the role that messianic shame as part of Asian American theological praxis can play as part of prophetic witness and organizing against US imperialism and militarism inside and the outside the nation’s borders.

Business Meeting:
Melissa Borja, University of Michigan
SueJeanne Koh, University of California, Irvine
  • Presidential Theme: Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces
  • Professional Development
Buddhism Unit
Theme: Fostering Diversity in the Study of Asian Religions: Foundation Support for Doctoral Study, Fellowships, and Teaching Positions
Natasha Heller, University of Virginia, Presiding
Stephen F. Teiser, Princeton University, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-17B (Mezzanine Level)

As fields of study, Asian Religions and Buddhist Studies have made great advances over the past several decades, partly through the support of foundations with national and international reach. These developments have also been accompanied by growing pains, including relatively small representation of women and other minorities, especially at the senior level and at major Ph.D. granting institutions. This roundtable brings together representatives of several major funding organizations to reflect on diversity in the past as well as prospects and policies for the future. The forum touches on inclusivity, access, and expanding the public sphere in which teaching and research on Asian religions take place—questions related to the 2019 AAR Presidential Theme. Focus will be on the demography of Ph.D. students, post-doctoral positions, and the professorial ranks.

Unregistered Participant
Robert E. Buswell, University of California, Los Angeles
Michelle Wang, Georgetown University
George Tanabe, University of Hawaii, Manoa (Honolulu)
Elena Valussi, Loyola University, Chicago
Laurie Louise Patton, Middlebury College
José I. Cabezón, University of California, Santa Barbara
Business Meeting:
James Robson, Harvard University
Reiko Ohnuma, Dartmouth College
  • Presidential Theme: Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces
Contemporary Islam Unit and International Development and Religion Unit
Theme: Making (Counter)Publics through Islamic Development and Humanitarianism
Jill DeTemple, Southern Methodist University, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire E (Fourth Level)

This panel explores Muslim charitable, development, and humanitarian interventions through an analysis of their diverse and sometimes contentious discourses and methods. Together, we probe the politics and anti-politics of interventions organized for (and often by) Muslims. Through the lens of (counter)publics, Islamic development and humanitarian aid emerge as a critical site of alterity. The papers offer novel perspectives on Islam and Muslims engaged in and responding to global and national regimes of aid, charity, development, and humanitarianism. Our contributions offer a fine-grained analysis of how Muslims and Muslim organizations articulate what makes their works distinct among other Muslim engagements, as well as from liberal, western, or secular modalities of giving and rescue. Through our analysis we probe these distinctions and the various assemblages that produce (counter)publics both locally, and within a so-called international community.

Basit Iqbal, University of California, Berkeley
“Spurring Humanity”: Islamist Counterpublic in a Humanitarian World

The ongoing devastation in Syria has displaced millions to neighbouring countries and beyond. Among the Jordanian organizations that have mobilized in response, the Association of the Quran and the Prophet’s Way (est. 1993) has massively expanded its support capacity to emerge as one of the largest charitable organizations in the country. It retains its mandate of Islamic reform, which it now expresses through humanitarian work. This paper is based on a close reading of a presentation made to non-governmental organizations by the Association’s director. In weaving between international and Islamic legal regimes and ethical imperatives, his presentation effectively articulates the theological contours of Muslim humanitarian practice as a mode of righteousness and repair. The director later described the dispossession which his programs address as being a divinely-imposed tribulation. This paper explores the equivocation of this moral economy of tribulation within the secular grammar of humanitarianism.

Katherine Merriman, University of North Carolina
Islamic Horizons for Aid: Taking the Long View of Muslim Charitable Practice in the United States

This paper is a longitudinal study of Islamic Horizons, the nationally distributed magazine of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), for what it reveals about American Muslim perspectives on and practices of humanitarian aid and development. ISNA is the largest Muslim organization in the region and its bi-monthly magazine not only quickly acquired national (and Canadian) distribution, but provides a window into the wide variety and scale of Islamic charity as it changes over time. Taking articles, news blurbs, charity appeals, and advertisements together as an assemblage discourse, I chart the shifts in dominant discourse among American Muslims about religious charity and its relationship to political life from 1980-2015. Two major trends emerge: increased government scrutiny affects the openness by which the political dimensions of aid are discussed and a turn to increased domestic charity work adopts African American Muslim theology of economic redistribution and community uplift.

Nermeen Mouftah, Butler University
Development as a Way of Life: Continuing Alms, Continuing Revolution in Post-Mubarak Egypt

In Egypt, a major recipient of international development funds, and home to some 40 000 local NGOs, development has become a way of life. This paper inquires into how “development” has emerged as an ethical and political project that merges national progress with intimate efforts to improve one’s piety. Youth activists articulate ‘faith development’ as a distinct method for their self-improvement, and the progress of the nation. Born in development-focused Mubarak era, and fully-articulated in Egypt’s (counter)revolution, these activists saw Egypt’s uprising as a moment to rid the country of a corrupt political system, and an Islam they similarly saw as politically exploited. Through an ethnography of a faith development organization at a moment of major upheaval, this paper crystallizes the NGO as not only a site that draws on religion to motivate action, but significantly as a locus for defining, delimiting, and disciplining Islam in public and political life.

Maliha Chishti, University of Chicago
Orientalist Tropes and “Rescuing” Afghan Women through Foreign Aid Interventions

Foreign-led, gender reforms aim to operationalize the orientialist “rescue” of Afghan women within the confines of “liberal publics” set up across Afghanistan. These politically fragile, dangerous and hyper-militarized liberal publics ostensibly provide a space within which women’s rights and freedoms can be realized. They purportedly stand apart from the ever-expanding reach of a traditional and religiously conservative “everywhere else” of Afghan society that women are expected to flee - simply because emancipatory possibilities are deemed impossible. This paper argues that by collapsing the wellbeing of women to the dictates of western liberal (colonial) modernity, foreign aid efforts never actually support the majority of Afghan women who are either unable, or lack the desire, to “enter” the foreign-fortified liberal publics. Instead of building networks of solidarity and support with Afghan women on their own terms, the gender agenda offers a singular, narrow and almost fictitious path for women’s empowerment.

Abbas Barzegar, Georgia State University